CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Former NFL official Gerry Austin doesn’t know why Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has played since 2014 without drawing obvious roughing-the-passer penalties, but he has a solution.
An eighth official.
Austin said the NFL needs to dedicate an eighth official to pay sole attention to what is happening to the quarterback in and out of the pocket. He said the referee has too much responsibility having to watch the quarterback and the tackle to see everything.
“A referee needs to have only one player to watch once the snap occurs, and that’s the quarterback," said Austin, who contributes to ESPN broadcasts regarding the performance of officials. “All he watches is coverage of the quarterback.
“The eighth official has given college football better coverage of the game. That could help the National Football League, also."
Late hits or helmet-to-helmet hits in the pocket have come up with Newton after three games this season, including the last two. Newton said two weeks ago after an uncalled hit below the knees against Arizona -- a hit the NFL has since said should have been a penalty -- that he doesn’t feel safe in the pocket.
Newton and coach Ron Rivera spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week about the issue.
Then on Sunday at Los Angeles, there were two questionable helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton in the pocket. Rivera said he sent one that concerned him to the league office, but didn’t say which that was.
Austin said the helmet-to-helmet contact by defensive tackle Aaron Donald on the NFL MVP definitely was a foul. An NFL source told ESPN’s Ed Werder both hits were deemed legal by the league.
Rivera also acknowledged that the officials had a tough job on such calls. Austin said the toughest call to make is for roughness when the defender comes straight up the middle, as both were against Newton on Sunday.
“New York [the league office] will tell you there are more missed calls by referees against the quarterback the last three or four years, no matter who it is, on the pressure coming straight up the middle," he said. “They’ve got to look at taking all responsibility away from the referee once the snap occurs.
“I think that will help with seeing the play better if that’s where his full attention is. If they have that eighth official where he’s 18 to 20 yards deep, he can help the umpire with the line play and the referee won’t have to pick up a tackle."
Austin doesn’t believe Newton is being treated unfairly by officials. But he said Newton makes the official’s job tougher because he goes from passer to runner and back to passer more than most because of his unique ability as a runner.
“Every official goes out to a game to officiate it the best that he can," Austin said. “Before the season starts, what’s the goal of every player, every team, every official? I want to be in the Super Bowl. To do that, that means they have to grade out in the top three or four at their position. In order to do that, you have to get the calls right."
Outside of an eighth official, Austin said the best way to deter the kind of hits Newton is taking is to sit a repeat offender for a game.
“Players will pay fines," he said. “They don’t want to miss a ballgame. If you find somebody that is a repeat offender on a safety issue, sit them down."